Transfiguration sermon, 2015
In the Collect for the Transfiguration we pray, “Grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty . . .” It’s tempting to interpret this as only about the glories of the life to come after our deaths. But Jesus was so emphatic about the reign of God also being in the here and now – among and within us – that it seems reasonable to look for that holy presence without waiting until we die – especially in the midst of what the prayer so aptly calls disquietude –in the midst of the everyday joys and challenges of life.
Here’s one small example. One of the core practices of living the religious life is the Divine Office. Day in and day out, morning, noon, evening and night, the community comes together to worship – mostly through praying and singing Psalms and reading other Scripture. It creates a rhythm to the day. It’s a regular reminder of God’s presence; of love, of our responsibilities and privileges as Christians. It helps us to put down the merely urgent for a few minutes to try to be attentive to what is truly important.
As you can imagine, however, sometimes it gets old. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is stop what you are doing to go recite those same Psalms and say those same prayers and sing those same hymns one more time. Sometimes you just drift through it, barely awake or you indulge in annoyance at the way someone else is saying it. And sometimes God surprises you with “deliverance from disquietude”. Sometimes that Transfiguring light sneaks up on you.
Sr. Alice shared an experience she had when, one day, she dragged herself reluctantly to whatever the next Office was. In the midst of it, a verse she’d read a thousand times took hold of her and opened her to insights and peace that she badly needed in a situation with which she was dealing. She said, “What if I hadn’t been there? I wouldn’t have heard what I needed. I’d have missed God’s touch.”
When the three disciples later looked back on their experience with Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountain, I wonder if they thought about how close they came to missing that holy moment. Luke tells us “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” Since they had stayed awake they were witnesses to one of the great mysteries of Jesus’ life. They were awake enough to see when the division between Earth and Heaven became so thin that the Reality of Jesus – the Christ – the Messiah – God Incarnate – was briefly visible.
I am so grateful to Luke for putting that bit about struggling to stay awake in the story. Aside from reassuring me once again that even those closest to Jesus were just as human and flawed as I am, it is another reminder that it is God’s love, not what I deserve, that matters. It is also a reminder to grow prayerfully more attentive to how “the King in his beauty” is present in any situation, no matter how unlikely it seems. Sometimes I don’t want to be where I am. Sometimes I’m only physically there – hardly awake. Sometimes I’m distracted, thinking so much about what I need to do next that I can barely manage to pay attention to the needs of the person I’m with. Sometimes I’m so annoyed by or bored with what’s happening in a meeting that I don’t even want to think that God might have something to teach me about love. Sometimes I think I’m too busy to rejoice in the beauty around me. Sometimes I think I’m doing something “too important” to stop and attend to the Office or even to be still in the presence of God.
And oh, those arrogant times when I think I’ve heard it all before!
Sister Alice and Saint Luke remind me to stop and at least be willing to try to be awake in the moment, in prayer, in worship, in whatever work is before me, in the person I am privileged to be with, in the dishes and laundry and dusting, in meetings and bill paying, because the Transfigured Christ is present and has something to teach, and love to convey even when it seems least likely.
Of course Alice’s experience is a reminder that it can be enough if you simply show up. The God who can break through to three groggy disciples can and does break through to us in all kinds of ways. But, I suspect, God prefers a little more active cooperation from us. Perhaps God would prefer that we ask for help regularly as well as work at paying attention – at staying awake. The disciples couldn’t do it on their own, and neither can we.
Transfiguration moments are offered to us all the time. We may not have the privilege of spotting Jesus, Moses and Elijah in conversation, but the event of the Transfiguration on the mountain is a reminder that the barrier between us and eternal reality – aka the reign of God With Us – is very thin, indeed. As we continue to show up – as we stay faithful to the practices of prayer, worship, study of Scripture, coming together, sharing Holy Eucharist, sharing our lives, sharing ourselves and substance in ministry – we will grow in our wakefulness and attentiveness. As we continue to ask God to show us what we need, and as we practice expectant attentiveness, we will become increasingly aware. We will glimpse Christ alive in the interruptions, in the seemingly mundane, in that which frustrates and wearies us, in the needs of those around us, in grief and in joy, in hope and despair, as well as in those rare and wonderful “mountaintop moments”.
Lord, in the midst of the disquietude of our daily lives, help us to keep awake . . . really, really wide awake; attentive, open and responsive to you in every possible moment.